Presidential Leadership is Missing in Libya

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BY CHARLES DJOU – The Obama administration’s slow motion response to the rapidly unfolding situation in Libya is baffling. There once was a time when the United States generally, and the president specifically, was considered the leader of the free world. The U.S. would take charge, bring allies together, and confront a brutal dictator against oppression.


In the current Libya crisis, however, this leadership has come from the president… of France.

President Barack Obama was strangely silent when the uprising in Libya began against brutal dictator Mohamar Kaddafi. It was left to French President Nicolas Sarkozy to rally world opinion for taking decisive action in favor of the Libyan rebels. Only after the French government’s leadership at the United Nations and NATO did President Obama finally agree to the use of American force in a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya. U.S. military action was only initiated after the French had already recognized the Libyan opposition government and committed to supporting the rebels militarily.

In the action against Libya, President Obama has also pre-emptively ruled out the use of ground forces. No one wants the U.S. to get engaged in yet another ground war in the Middle East. But the president has made a strategic mistake. The best way to avoid the actual use of American ground forces is often the threat of action by ground forces. By removing even the threat of using the U.S. Army and Marines, if things go terribly wrong in Libya, the actual need for use of ground forces increases.

We also must understand that Kaddafi is a brutal despot the U.S. must now remove from power. He has engaged in state-sponsored terrorism against Americans and shows no qualms about in killing innocent civilians – American or Libyan. Now that the U.S. has directly engaged airborne forces against Kaddafi, whether the Obama administration likes it or not, the U.S. must commit to toppling Kaddafi. If NATO fails to overthrow Kaddafi, as terrible a dictator as Kaddafi may have been, he will now be a far worse state-sponsor of terrorism in the future if he survives.

This makes the president’s recent characterization of America’s military action in Libya as a “humanitarian mission” difficult to understand. There are plenty of “humanitarian” crises that can legitimately call for U.S. military intervention that are far worse than the current situation in Libya.

The U.S. should not, and cannot afford, a call up of military force for every humanitarian crisis around the world. In Libya, with a brutal dictator who sponsors terrorism against Americans, is seated at a strategic point on the globe, holds vital natural resources, and whose citizens are themselves rising up in rebellion, the U.S. has a clear national interest in getting rid of Mohamar Kaddafi.

Commander-in-chief is the single most important role given to the president of the United States. The American presidency has been consistently used as a force for liberty and against tyranny throughout the world for generations, but this force is being squandered by the current administration in Libya. President Obama must recognize that we must stop terror in Libya and use whatever force is necessary to ensure that liberty prevails.

Charles K. Djou served Hawaii’s 1st congressional district in the House of Representatives from 2010-2011. He is now on active duty with the Army. This was first published in The Hill.